Organized religion played a major role in the settling of Illinois and continues to influence the culture of our region. We enjoy highlighting places of worship in each issue.
Country Church: St. Paul Church of Epleyanna, Est. 1847
8800 E. Epleyanna Road, Davis, Ill., (815) 865-5314
Sometimes, a church is the first thing to bind a community together and the thing that most endures as generations come and go. That’s the case with this active little country church, founded in 1847 between Davis and Rock City by a handful of immigrants from the Lippe-Detmold area of Germany. It took its name from one of the original families, the Epleys. Three brothers purchased a mill already built on Rock Run, and later built another, which they called Epleyanna, after one of their daughters.
Today this church stays in touch with its German roots, but also celebrates its American patriotism in creative ways. For about six years, it has conducted a “polka worship service” in which members played accordions. It recently held a special concert saluting military families, coordinated with the Durand Legion Post, featuring an Americana sing-along. Services at the church were conducted in German until the 1940s.
Like so many congregations, this one lost an early structure to fire, but refused to give up. They worked in 1959 to replace the church with the current building and added a school, as well. The school no longer operates.
This is a musically talented congregation, with a Senior Choir, Women’s Choir, Men’s Choir and Bell Choir. There’s an active Awana chapter for children (3-5th grade) and a staffed youth program (6-9th grade). The church holds free events for the enjoyment of its community, such as Autumn Fest, and offers many opportunities for other forms of community service and Bible study.
The congregation, led by Pastor Scott Naevestad, holds Sunday School for all ages at 9 a.m. and worship at 10 a.m. from May through September. From the first Sunday in October through April, Sunday School is at 9:30 a.m. and worship is at 10:30 a.m.
City Church: St. Mary Catholic Church, Est. 1850
329 Pine St., DeKalb, Ill., (815) 758-5432, stmarydekalb.org
Made of blue Bedford stone and adorned with 24 beautiful stained glass windows, this Gothic revival building is a notable architectural landmark in DeKalb County. Its thriving parish was founded by a handful of Catholics who lived in the DeKalb area in 1850. Those 30 families took turns holding Mass in each other’s homes, led on a rotating schedule by priests from Chicago or nearby St. Charles.
By 1899, the cornerstone was laid for the existing church building in order to accommodate the growing parish. An arson fire in 1973 completely destroyed the church’s sanctuary, but nearly all the original stained glass windows, brought over from Germany, survived. Mass was held in the school gym for a year while repairs and renovations took place.
Father Dean Russell leads today’s church membership of more than 1,360 families.
The church supports St. Mary’s School, where 160 elementary and high school students are enrolled. It’s also involved with many community service groups and supports both Vietnamese and Hispanic ministries.
Mass is Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m., Sat. 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Sun. 8:30 and 10:30 a.m., with Spanish Mass at 4 p.m. and Vietnamese mass on second Sundays at 1:30 p.m.